There were clouds in the sky but excitement in the air at SUNY Fredonia Tuesday morning. For the 24th year of the Special Olympics in Northern Chautauqua County, 261 Special Olympians, their supporters and a host of volunteers gathered at Steele Hall for the parade of athletes, competitions, lunch and activities in the Olympic village.
Participants came from Aspire, Brocton Central School, BOCES, Cassadaga Valley, Dunkirk City Schools, Fredonia Central School, Pine Valley Central School, the Resource Center, Silver Creek Central School, and Sinclairville Elementary School.
A color guard from the Junior ROTC at Dunkirk High School lead the parade. Color guard members Mike Adams, Alex Crowell, Tyler Haynes and Bernard Morgan displayed proper decorum.
special olympics heald at suny fredonia
After marching around the track, the young men stood in formation near the makeshift stage for the duration of the opening ceremony.
Several integrated classes from Fredonia Central School were located in the balcony above the track. Jill Putnam, a third-grade teacher, explained that the Special Olympians participate in regular classes to the extent possible and attend special classes as needed.
She said, "We (the classes) made posters and decorated the shirts we are wearing to show support for the students from our classes who are competing."
OBSERVER Photos by Diane R. Chodan
Top: Special Olympians from School 7 in Dunkirk get ready to participate in the parade of athletes.
The song "One Moment in Time" filled the gymnasium as each group of athletes marched in behind a banner identifying them. Athletes waved to their supporters who cheered for them. Up in the balcony, the Fredonia students clapped, cheered and waved pom poms. Down-stairs. parents, volunteers and school personnel encouraged the athletes. Once all the groups had marched in, they settled in the gym for the opening of the games.
Tracey Hamdy from Silver Creek sang the Star Spangled Banner. Jonah Martin the Special Olympic oath in a loud clear voice. "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt," he said.
Then on the count of three all those assembled yelled, "Let the games begin."
During the course of the day, athletes participated in competitions in the gym and outdoors. The events included girls' and boys' softball throw, standing long jump, running long jump, races, adaptive races, and relays. Students were awarded ribbons in the events.
Linda Huch of Cassadaga was able to cheer on third-grader Justin, kindergartner Matthew and first grader, Destinie. Justin and Matthew received first-place ribbons in the 50-meter run. Destinie received a second in the same event. All the children were excited.
Huch of Cassadaga said, " These kids don't get to play team sports. The kids had so much fun. It's important for them."
In between competition, athletes could spend time in the Olympic Village, playing games or spending time in the bounce house. A number of clowns circulated making balloon animals for the children. A lunch of hot dogs, chips and drink was available for the athletes. Ice cream, cookies and water was also available.
Larisa Aldrich, from the City of Dunkirk Youth Bureau who is longtime co-coordinator of the event, said, "In the end the weather was nice."
Aldrich was grateful for the support extended by the community. She said, "About 78 students from Dunkirk, Fredonia, Brocton, and Forestville High Schools helped out. They were located at the competition areas and also helped passing out the food. The clowns were older students who attend BOCES. It's a long day, and they were great. Other volunteers are retired teachers who come back to help each year."
Aldrich also was grateful to SUNY Fredonia, which allows the event to be held at its facility, as well as to the city of Dunkirk which provides items such as tables and trash receptacles. Fieldbrook farms, Petri's, and Pizza Hut provided food and beverage for lunch and other local employers made contributions.
"The community comes together for this," she said.
Maureen Bialaszewski, co-coordinator, said, "Again this was a very successful year. We can't do it without the volunteers - adults and students. This is a great family oriented event. There are parents, grandparents, and others cheering on the kids. It's wonderful."
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